The Best Team in Baseball Falls To Second Place

Since day one of the 2014 baseball season, pundits across the sports world have been in virtual agreement that, no question, the best team in baseball is the Oakland Athletics. Despite starting the season with two of their top starters, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, facing season-ending surgery, the staff was still regarded as, top to bottom, baseball’s deepest and best, and all management did after that was go out and acquire three additional starters, including one of the game’s very best in Jon Lester, a solid middle of the rotation guy in Jeff Samardzija, and one disappointment in Jason Hammel. Few teams can send out a one-two-three of starters than can compare with Lester, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. Their bullpen in solid and deep, and they have a shut-down closer in Sean Doolittle, who has compiled an amazing WHIP of 0.65, allowing only four walks this

season in 52.2 innings pitched and as against 74 strikeouts, an 18-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Combining all this with outstanding hitting, power, team speed, excellent defense, and an outstanding and experienced manager, and on paper, the team looked unbeatable. As the season progressed, that seemed to be the case on the field as well, as through the first four-and-one-half months of the season, the A's were in
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first place in the American League West Division, and were sailing along with the best record in either league.

At the same time, the Los Angeles Angels were considered also-rans, and only possible contenders for a playoff spot. After spending substantial amounts of money on big-name free agents, and after trapping lightening in a jar by developing baseball’s biggest star in decades in Mike Trout, the team was coming off two terribly disappointing seasons. Their start in 2014 was poor, and in the early season, it looked like it

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could be another year where the team would be heading home as others prepared for the playoffs. The clubs biggest weakness, the starting staff, had some new, young blood in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, and maybe the vast talent of Garrett Richards had been harnessed and was
ready to explode. But more and more problems developed in the bullpen, and as the starters showed improvement, the bullpen fell into oblivion. The offense and the power production showed significant improvement, with a healthy Albert Pujols combining with Trout to comprise a formidable one-two punch. David Freese ended his early season slump and began contributing big hits, as did Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Kole Calhoun. Despite the inconsistency of C.J. Wilson and the season-ending injury to Skaggs, Richards’ development into one of the league’s very best, combining with Jered Weaver and rookie Matt Shoemaker, has given the Angels their own outstanding big three. Jerry Dipoto then totally rebuilt the bullpen on the fly, acquiring thee solid arms, including one of the game’s top closers in Huston Street.

And then things came together. And tonight, August 16, with the Angels winning tonight 5-4 over Texas for their fourth win in a row, and with Oakland having just lost their fourth in a row, going down to Atlanta, 4-3, the Los Angeles Angels have overtaken Oakland by two percentage points, to take over first place in the AL West, and they are now possessors of major league baseball's best record, 72-49.

What will happen from here on out is anybody’s guess. The Angels could lose tomorrow and Oakland could win, and the Angels could fall out of first, never again this year to regain it. Or, they could continue winning and end the regular season in first place, and relive the magic of the 2002 season.

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